Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hey, Got a Nickel, Mack?

A Hare Grows in Manhattan - 1947

"It was once the world’s largest restaurant chain, serving 800,000 people a day. It was Horn & Hardart, and its cavernous, waiterless establishments represented a combination of fast-food, vending and cafeteria-style eateries. These restaurants, with their chrome-and-glass coin-operated machines, brought high-tech, inexpensive eating to a low-tech era. Making their debut in Philadelphia in 1902, just up the street from Independence Hall, and reaching Manhattan in 1912, Horn & Hardart Automats became an American icon, celebrated in song and humor. With their uniform recipes and centralized commissary system of supplying their restaurants, the Automats were America’s first major fast-food chain."

Carolyn Hughes Crowley
Smithsonian Magazine, August 2001

"Horn and Hardart believed that the cafeteria-like eatery would be a success if they could provide quality food inexpensively and conveniently. Customers could drop a nickel into a slot next to chrome and glass displays, choosing a hot meal for five cents. The company instructed employees to be especially friendly—anyone, despite the amount of money they spent, was welcome in an automat and could stay as long as they wanted. Some customers, unable to afford the nickel meals, were welcome to make tomato soup out of hot water and ketchup for free. In the 1930s automats appealed to both the working class because of their prices and to the upper class for their quality food. During the Depression, the automats flourished with their inviting atmosphere, excellent food, and bargain prices."

Catherine Finn
Preservation Magazine, Jaunuary 2007

"A kiss may be grand, but it won't pay the rental on your humble flat,
or help you at the automat."

-from the song Diamonds Are a Girls Best Friend,
as performed by Marilyn Monroe in the film
Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.


Amy said...

I love the scene in "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" where they eat at the Automat. It would be fun to be able to go back in time and visit one of these. I haven't been, but there is a new version in NYC.

Jeanine said...

As God Is My Witness, I was probably in my twenties before I realized that when Marilyn sang about kisses not helping at the automat, she wasn't talking about someplace where you bought cars.

Anonymous said...

The 1937 Mitchell Leisen directed, Preston Sturges scripted comedy "Easy Living" has a fabulous scene set at the Automat. It's one of my favorite screwball comedies.